A key figure in the poisoning case of former spy Alexander Litvinenko fell into a coma after being questioned by Russian and British investigators, the Interfax news agency reported Thursday. A lawyer close to the case denied the report.
Dmitry Kovtun, a businessman and former Russian agent who met with Litvinenko in London, had developed an illness connected with a radioactive substance, the prosecutor's office said.
Interfax, citing unidentified sources, said Kovtun fell into a coma immediately after being questioned by Russian investigators and Scotland Yard detectives.
The sources said Kovtun’s condition was critical, Interfax reported.
But Andrei Romashov, a lawyer for another key figure in the case, told The Associated Press that he contacted Kovtun's representatives after the report and they told him Kovtun's condition was “the same as it was when he met with prosecutors.”
Romashov declined to identify Kovtun's representatives.
The news came hours after Britain's Health Protection Agency said seven employees at a London hotel tested positive for “low levels” of the highly radioactive polonium-210.
Officials said the seven people who tested positive worked at the Millennium Hotel, where Kovtun met Litvinenko hours before the former KGB agent fell ill. There was no risk to the staff’s health in the short-term, officials said.
Laid to rest
Litvinenko, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in a London hospital on Nov. 23 accusing the Russian leader of involvement in his death — an accusation that Russia denies. He was laid to rest Thursday in London’s Highgate Cemetery.
Meanwhile, Russian prosecutors in Moscow opened their own investigation into the poisoning death.
Litvinenko was mourned on Thursday by his family, a Chechen rebel leader and other exiled Kremlin critics. Self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev and some 50 mourners consoled the former spy’s wife, Marina, and 12-year-old son, Anatoly, beside Litvinenko’s dark oak casket as a steady rain fell.
Litvinenko, who also criticized Putin’s policies in Chechnya, reportedly had converted to Islam before his death, and some of the mourners were dressed in traditional Muslim robes. They left red flowers and an orange and yellow wreath at the stone gate of the famous cemetery where communist revolutionary Karl Marx is buried.
Lord John Rea, director of the Save Chechnya campaign, held up a picture of crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose murder Litvinenko was investigating at the time of his death.
From his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed his poisoning on Putin — a charge that Russian officials have called “nonsense.” Traces of polonium were found in Litvinenko’s body after his Nov. 23 death.
Radiation found at more than a dozen sites
Scotland Yard on Wednesday said it was investigating his death as a homicide, traces of radiation have been found at more than a dozen sites in Britain and on jetliners that flew between London and Moscow.
Prosecutors in Moscow said they had also opened a criminal case into Litvinenko’s death, allowing suspects to be prosecuted in Russia. Officials there previously have said that Russia would not allow the extradition of any suspects in Litvinenko’s death.